Michael Jackson In Captain EO

Michael Jackson, a huge Disney fan, was still enjoying the fame and notoriety of his hit album Thriller when his financial adviser, David Geffen, suggested Jackson make a movie for Disney. Geffen called his long-time friend, Jeffrey Katzenberg (then head of the studio), with the idea. Katzenberg and Eisner countered with creating a 3-D movie/rock video for Disneyland. Jackson liked the idea, but insisted that either George Lucas or Steven Spielberg be a part of the project. Imagineering's Rick Rothschild drew up three different story lines. Both he and Jackson picked the same one to do: Captain EO.

With George Lucas already working on designing Star Tours for Disneyland, he was enlisted to work on Captain EO. Lucas brought in Francis Coppola, Rusty Lemorande and Angelica Huston for the film. Jackson wrote the two songs featured in the film: "We Are Here to Change the World" and "Another Part of Me." The original $11 million budget grew to $17 million as more and more special effects were added. At about $1 million per minute, it was probably the most expensive film ever made (at that time). It was decided that EPCOT would also get Captain EO to help liven up the park. Frank Wells renegotiated Kodak's contract so that Kodak agreed to pick up some of the costs of producing the film, building a theater at Disneyland and renovating EPCOT's Magic Eye Theater to accommodate the new special effects. The new attraction opened at EPCOT on September 12, 1986


Lucas brought in Francis Ford Coppola, Rusty Lemorande, and Angelica Huston for the film. Coppola, a longtime friend of Lucas, needed to repair his reputation after the recent box office failure of the film The Cotton Club so he was brought on as the director.

Lemorande, who had produced and scripted a recently released science-fiction-themed film with comedy elements, Electric Dreams, was to script Captain EO with input from Coppola and Lucas. Lemorande had also recently produced Yentl, so he would be the on-site producer. He later did uncredited work as a second unit director and film editor. Lucas would be credited as the executive producer.

Huston, who would win the Oscar for her performance in Prizzi’s Honor, which was released in 1985, would play a spider-like H.R. Giger Alien-version of the Evil Queen from Disney’s classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, suspended in the air by web-like cables.



 In later years, Lemorande shared that one of the factors that made Captain EO a troubled production was the resentment that Disney Imagineers had about “outsiders” being brought in to handle a Disney theme park attraction. In fact, the high hourly rates charged by Imagineering resulted in Katzenberg giving some of the work on the film to outside contractors.

Tony-award winner John Napier, who had just been recognized for his work on the musical Cats, was brought in and he built a miniature theater in scale to demonstrate the interactive effects for the show. That model greatly impressed Eisner and later, when Napier wanted to lift the ceiling of the theater to eliminate an interfering beam, Eisner quickly approved the additional expense.

Napier worked on the costumes that not only had to represent the evil nature of the dark planet and its twisted metal and steaming vents, but still had to have the flexibility of movement for the dancers to showcase Jackson’s style of movement.

“What I am doing with the costumes is trying to make people able to move in these things, where they won’t fall apart in these robotic characters," Napier said. "I put in a lot of detail that should work well in 3-D.”

Most of the project was supervised by Katzenberg but Eisner occasionally dropped by to see the work in progress and felt that this was “his” project that would demonstrate how he could revitalize Disneyland.

Jeff Hornaday had done the choreography for Flashdance (1983), and had recently worked with Paul McCartney and Jackson on the Say, Say, Say music video so he seemed a natural addition as choreographer.

“We wanted the dances to be a storytelling element, directly connected to a character,” said Hornaday, who was supervising 36 dancers. “Working with Michael for me has been a unique experience in that usually a choreographer will devise sequences of dance and then give it to the dancers to do. Michael’s talent and approach is so unique that you are limiting yourself by just giving him what you do.”


Rick Baker who had done the makeup for Jackson's Thriller video was brought in to supervise the makeup for Captain EO. Tom Burman (who had done work on the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special) did the makeup design for Huston’s character and it took three hours each day to apply that detailed makeup.

Lance Anderson, who among other credits was a creature designer on the recently released Ghostbusters is credited as the co-designer for EO’s ragtag crew of Hooter, the Geex, and Major and Minor Domo. Baker was credited as being responsible for Fuzzball.



 James Horner, who had recently scored Disney's Something Wicked This Way Comes (and decades later would score Titanic) provided the original score for the film. Jackson himself wrote the two songs featured in the film: "We Are Here to Change the World" and "Another Part of Me."

“Another Part of Me," later appeared on Jackson's hugely successful Bad album (1987) but "We Are Here to Change the World" was not officially released until 2004 as part of Michael Jackson: The Ultimate Collection.

Pre-production on the project began March 1985. There was three weeks of principal photography. The same big blue screen from Disney’s sci-fi film Black Hole was used for filming the scene where Michael Jackson danced out over the audience’s heads.

It was not surprising that this production, with all this high-profile talent, quickly ran over the budget. While Disney never confirmed the actual cost, it was reported that the 17-minute film ended up costing somewhere between $17 million and $30 million, or roughly more than a $1 million a minute, making it at the time the most expensive film ever made. The original budget was $11 million.

“Captain EO ran over budget. The biggest factor was special effects, some 150 of them, more per minute than Lucas had used in Star Wars,” Eisner said.

Reportedly, Lemorande and Jackson did some reshooting and recutting for the film (at one point using a spray painted ball from a toilet as a stand-in for the head of the Minor Domo puppet that couldn’t be found). While there had been plans for Disney’s Imagineering to work on the special effects (the talented Harrison Ellenshaw is listed in the credits), Lucas gave the film to Industrial Light and Magic to “fix” and delays on giving the film to Disney was credited to Lucas’s notorious “perfectionism.”

However, it could have been the worse film ever made and it would have made no difference, because it was done at the height of “Jackson Mania” and the opportunity to see Jackson singing and dancing to two new songs he had composed guaranteed its success.

Captain EO opened at Epcot on September 12, 1986, but the big premiere was scheduled for its Disneyland opening on September 18, 1986.

Although built for Captain EO, Disneyland's Magic Eye Theater, that seated about 700 guests, opened in May 1986 with the amazing Magic Journeys, the original 3-D movie from Epcot's Imagination pavilion, in preparation for the Captain EO debut. Live theater special effects were added for the Captain EO presentation including lasers, fiber-optic stars, and fog effects that were all painstakingly synchronized with the action on screen.

Frank Wells renegotiated Kodak's contract so that Kodak agreed to pick up some of the costs of producing the film, building a theater at Disneyland and renovating Epcot’s 3-D Theater to accommodate the new special effects.

The week of the grand opening, the “National Enquirer” printed an odd photo of Jackson lying inside a hyperbaric chamber. It was theorized that, in order to live to be 150 years old, he slept in it each night to get that influx of oxygen. In reality, several biographies of Jackson pointed out that Jackson himself leaked the picture purposely at that time to draw attention to the premiere of Captain EO, especially with its “sci-fi” aspect.

There were more than 200 members from the international press who attended the Disneyland premiere and were herded into the Tomorrowland Space Place eatery, where they were given a press kit containing nine separate releases, six photos and a commemorative Captain EO T-shirt. Surrounded by free coffee, soft drinks and croissants, the press could watch a trailer about the making of the film on an endless loop.

Also in the Space Place were opportunities for interviews with people connected to the production like choreographer Jeffrey Hornaday and Tom Smith.

Smith, the former general manager of Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic effects shop recalled, “The special effects shots were done one camera, two passes.” Smith also revealed that the last effects shot for Captain EO was that of the logo that juts out into the audience

The big parade of celebrities started around 2 p.m. A variety of celebrities attended the grand opening of the film at Disneyland, including Catherine Bach, Elizabeth Montgomery, Alan Thicke, Erik Estrada, John Ritter, Lisa Hartman, Whoopi Goldberg, Charles Bronson, Sissy Spacek, Sarah Purcell, Dr. Joyce Brothers, Debra Winger, Elliot Gould, Dolph Lundgren, Apollonia Kotero and even Jack Nicholson, who rode with his then-girlfriend Angelica Huston down Main Street in an antique car waving to cheering fans.

However, Annette Funicello seemed to get the loudest and most enthusiastic response from the audience. Molly Ringwald was one of the few stars who refused to ride down Main Street as part of the parade.

Jack Wagner, well known as the “Voice of Disneyland,” announced the celebrities as they drove by. The parade from the front of the park to the Hub did not end until 3:30 p.m. and officially, there were 125 celebrities who participated. Even Michael’s sister LaToya and his mother Catherine were chauffeured down the street.

By 5 p.m., the rising heat had made things uncomfortable and the children brought by their celebrity parents were beginning to show how tired they were, but it was still not time to see the film. Jack Wagner introduced the Pine Bluff High School and Washington High School Marching Bands and Gregg Burge, from A Chorus Line who was perhaps chosen because he was a young male African-American with a singing and dancing background to perhaps represent the absent Michael Jackson.

Burge burst into an original Disney song about “Let’s make way for tomorrow!” followed by a float featuring costumed character versions of Hooter, the Geex and Major Domo.

At the end, CEO Michael Eisner smiled and addressed the crowd, “Michael Jackson is here.” The crowd got very excited but Eisner continued, “But he is disguised, either as an old lady, an usher, or an Animatronic character.”

Nobody in the audience, especially the journalists, believed Eisner.

After a speech by Kodak’s vice chairman, Coppola, Lucas and Angelica Huston gathered at a red ribbon drawn across the entrance of the theater. Nearby were Coppola’s nephew Nicholas Cage and the newest Jackson superstar, Janet.

Reading from cue cards, they proclaimed:

Huston: “For all those who still believe in the magic world of fantasy and imagination…”

Lucas: “For all those who are still moved by the wonders of music and dance…”

Coppola: “For all those who share Walt Disney’s dream and delight in the promise of the future, we cut this ribbon signifying the opening of the 3-D musical motion picture space adventure, Captain EO!”

Written by Wade Sampson at http://www.mouseplanet.com/9085/The_Untold_Story_of_Captain_EO

 Captain Eo played in all of Disneys parks around the world, opening in TOMMOROWLAND in Disney-Land California on 18 September 1986, Disney-Land Tokyo on 20 March 1987 and DISCOVERYLAND Disney-Land Paris on 12 April 1992

Between 1994 and 1998 Captain EO was replaced with HONEY I SHRUNK THE AUDIENCE, with DISNEYLAND PARIS being the last place to close the attraction in 1998. By that stage it had been showing for nearly 12 years and Disney wanted something new and fresh for their parks.

In the summer of 2009, with the passing of Michael Jackson, there was renewed interest in Captain EO. Fans started petitioning Disney to bring it back to the parks.

In December 2009, Disney announced that Captain EO would be returning for a limited run, starting with Disney-Land California on 23 February 2010. The other parks followed, with Captain EO re opening in Disney World Florida 2 July 2010, Disney Land Paris 12 June 2010 and Disney Land Tokyo 1 July 2010.

The original plan was to have a limited run of 10 to 12 months at each park. Disney were un prepared for the popularity of the attraction and were surprised at the interest.

On 6 May 2011 Disney Land Tokyo released a statement that Captain EO would remain as a permanent attraction. 

In September 2013 Disneyland California and Disneyworld Florida announced that Captain EO would be closing before December 2013 due to refurbishment and major updates in Tomorrowland. Disneyland Paris has announced that Captain EO will close in February 2014.

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